Tuesday, 10 October 2017

Theft at East Gate ~ By Nick pope


By Nick Pope

On 12 June 2017, veteran UFO researcher and writer Peter Robbins posted a detailed and lengthy statement on Facebook, setting out what most of the rest of the UFO community already knew, namely that his “Left at East Gate” co-author, Larry Warren, had verifiably told Peter multiple falsehoods, appeared to have forged a number of documents relating to his various claims, and had made up stories concerning his supposed friendship with a number of famous musicians. Somewhat counter-intuitively, this latter revelation is actually the most serious, as Warren has been involved in selling items of music memorabilia, seemingly at least in part based on these claims of celebrity friendships. I’ll say little more about this aspect of the case, as this is a matter for the police and courts. Suffice to say that anyone who’s ever seen Warren’s comically badly-photoshopped image of him with John Lennon would never buy any music memorabilia from the man! Warren claims he was 19 in the photo, whereas he’s clearly around forty years of age.

Peter Robbins also called out Warren for his threats of violence against women. This doubtless reflects a deeper misogyny, as evidenced by his repeated references to various women as “witches”, “bitches” or “silly little girls”. As with the allegations of fraudulent selling of music memorabilia, the threats of violence against women are matters for the police and the courts, though it’s a matter of public record that Warren was barred from speaking at a UFO conference due to be held at University of Glasgow, after the university authorities were alerted to Warren’s violent threats against women. Sadly, a couple of UK-based ufologists, while well-aware of this behaviour, have refused to speak out against it. Shame on them.

With regard to the final unravelling of the Larry Warren story, the writing had been on the wall for a long time. “Left at East Gate” is, after all, the only UFO book that has a nickname: “Theft at East Gate”, due to the widely-held belief that Warren stole parts of his story from the genuine witnesses (and seems to have made up most of the rest of it). Peter Robbins may have made his statement much later than the UFO community would have preferred, but it was a detail-rich account, filled with specific, checkable examples of Warren’s deception. It was the final nail in the coffin for Warren’s credibility. Clearly when even his co-author – who’s worked with Warren for decades – calls him a liar, nobody else is going to believe him. And remember, Peter Robbins had nothing to gain and a lot to lose by making his statement. More about that later. The upshot of all this is that number of people who say they still believe Warren is down to single figures. These half dozen or so people are dishonestly trying to spin recent events as a falling out between Warren and Peter Robbins. Self-evidently it isn’t. It’s a detailed exposition of a decades-long fraud perpetrated on the UFO community. Similarly, these Warren supporters (essentially just friends and family trying to keep the story afloat) are trying to suggest that there’s still a debate to be had about all this, and that there are a large number of people out there who still believe Warren. There aren’t. This isn’t the sort of “controversy” or “split” that occasionally divides ufology. The matter is beyond debate in the same way as the Roswell Slides, the Hitler Diaries or Piltdown Man is beyond debate. It’s an exposed hoax. The case is absolutely watertight. In legal terms this isn’t “on the balance of probability”. It’s “beyond reasonable doubt”.

One thing I’ve noticed about the UFO community is that people often forget – or aren’t aware of – the history of their own subject. Warren was actually busted way back in 2000, by author and investigative journalist Georgina Bruni, in her book “You Can’t Tell The People”. Following publication of the book Warren hit back at Bruni with a furious list of questions in which he attempted to undermine her meticulous research. Warren’s attack backfired badly. In response to some of his questions, which asked where she’d sourced particular points, Bruni referred him back to specific pages in his own book! It wasn’t simply that Warren hadn’t got his story straight and was tripping himself up with contradictions – he’d clearly forgotten large chunks of it altogether! Warren got absolutely owned in the exchange, all of which is 100% checkable. Sadly, as I say, people either aren’t aware of this open source material, don’t check it, or – shamefully – choose to ignore it.

In the interests of fair play and accuracy it’s important to stress that a couple of parts of Warren’s story are verifiably true. In late 1980 he was indeed posted to the twin bases of Bentwaters and Woodbridge, after having completed his basic training. That said, while he plays the veteran card to the hilt (something that infuriates military personnel who’ve served in Iraq and Afghanistan), he was bundled out of the United States Air Force a few weeks later. The second part of Warren’s story that turns out to be true is that he was indeed one of the first whistleblowers on the case – though not the first, as he’s sometimes claimed.  

The statement from Peter Robbins is so meticulous and detailed that I don’t intend to analyse it any great detail. It speaks for itself, and those wanting to research specific areas of the Larry Warren fraud can follow the trail that Peter has laid out. What I will do is make some more general comments on the wider implications of the fraud. Before I do so, I should answer a question I’ve been asked about this situation, namely, why have I taken such a close, personal interest in this matter?

There are three reasons for my interest. Firstly, when I worked at the Ministry of Defence, I undertook what police would call a cold case review of the Rendlesham Forest incident. While the Rendlesham Forest incident itself took place before I joined the MoD, during my time on the MoD’s UFO project it was the incident on which we received most questions, from MPs and Peers, from the media, and from the public. Having been involved in this government work on the case, I feel a personal connection with the case, its witnesses, and those who claim to be witnesses. Secondly, I co-wrote a book (“Encounter in Rendlesham Forest”) on the incident with two of the genuine witnesses, John Burroughs and Jim Penniston. Thus, given that Warren seems to have appropriated parts of his story from the experiences of genuine witnesses, there’s a “stolen valour” issue here that I – and many others – find particularly offensive. Finally, having researched and investigated the UFO phenomenon for the government, the mainstream media invariably come to me for comments and quotes on UFO-related stories that they intend to run. I was duly quoted in a 30th May Daily Mirror story which is, at least as I write these words, the only mainstream media story yet to have been written on the Larry Warren fraud.

Where do we go from here? What are the wider implications of this sorry affair for the credibility of the Rendlesham Forest incident, and indeed the credibility of ufology? What lessons can be learned? On the first part of this question, I’m aware from my UK government research and investigation into the UFO phenomenon that the Rendlesham Forest incident is a genuinely mysterious case that remains unexplained to this day. The Larry Warren fraud may damage the case in the short-term, but one swallow doesn't make a summer, and in the longer term, the testimony of the genuine witnesses and the story told by the declassified UK government documents on the incident will rightly be seen as more important than one man’s discredited stories. As for the wider reputation of various individuals in the UFO community, and indeed of ufology itself, there may be some short-term damage, but in the longer term the UFO community will be able to say with justifiable pride that lessons were learned from this experience, and that they weren't afraid to clean house. Because frankly, if ufology doesn’t police itself, nobody else will.

There’s an interesting parallel to be drawn between the Larry Warren fraud and the Roswell Slides fiasco – which I briefly mentioned earlier. In both cases, the wider UFO community seemed quite polarized by the debate until a small and disparate group of researchers came together to investigate the situation and expose the falsehood. In both cases, once the truth was revealed it was blindingly obvious, but the point is that it needed somebody to step up to the plate. With the Roswell Slides fiasco it was the Roswell Slides Research Group. With the Larry Warren fraud it was Sacha Christie, Alyson Dunlop, David Young and James Welsh – though many others contributed research too. In both cases the researchers had little in common, had very different takes on the wider subject, and in both cases some of those involved ended up changing their minds on the situation after having reviewed the evidence. If ufology could learn just a single lesson from this sorry affair, it should be the value of this sort of critical thinking, where people take an evidence-based approach and aren’t afraid to change their position when new facts emerge. Those who simply dig in and defend a position based on belief, irrespective of the facts, end up looking foolish and irrelevant.

The above comments about not being afraid to change one’s mind bring us neatly back to Peter Robbins. As mentioned before, Peter has everything to lose and nothing to gain by speaking out, but he did so anyway. Why? The answer is simple: his honesty and integrity. Peter knew he’d be accused of not having done his due diligence, and though it saddens me to say so, there’s clearly a good deal of truth in that. Indeed, his courageous statement acknowledges this very point. His reputation as a researcher and as an investigative writer has undeniably been dented though, in fairness, Warren can spin a good tale, and found in Peter someone who epitomized The X-Files catchphrase “I want to believe”.

What about the books? Peter Robbins is in a difficult position. "Left at East Gate", (and his two more recent, self-published works, "Deliberate Deception" and "Halt in Woodbridge") have at their heart Warren's story. Peter Robbins now realises that much of this story is false. He could take immediate, unilateral action to withdraw his two self-published books. With regard to "Left at East Gate", Peter has said that he’ll bring the deception to the attention of his publisher, Cosimo. It’s not clear whether he intends to leave the matter entirely to them (turkeys don’t vote for Christmas, so I suspect it’s unlikely the publisher would take the book out of print), or whether he’ll make a recommendation to them, based on whether or not he feels a false narrative should continue to be promoted. There are some potentially bizarre-sounding possibilities here. For example, Peter might decide to have his name taken off the cover but let Warren continue to market it – though in strictly legal terms the book might have to be reclassified as a work of science fiction as opposed to non-fiction. As an interesting aside, while I haven't seen their Cosimo contract, most such literary contracts have an "author's warranty and indemnity" section, where the author warrants that the material isn't plagiarized, doesn't misrepresent anything about the author's background or life story, and doesn't contain material inaccuracies. Given what we now know about Warren and his story, any such clause in their “Left at East Gate” contract would certainly be relevant, and might even invalidate the entire contract. In extremis, Warren might be liable for the return of any monies he's ever obtained from the work.

What of Warren himself? Motivations for hoaxing vary, and are often more complex than people realise. They can include the hope for financial gain, but it usually goes beyond this and often has its roots in attention-seeking, or simply the personal satisfaction of ‘putting one over’ on a group of people you despise and whom you regard as inferior and gullible. I feel genuinely sorry for Peter Robbins and the UFO community. They were played. Warren took their beliefs and exploited them, which is a real shame, given how passionate people are about ufology, and how much they care about their subject. If Warren had any self-respect he’d admit the deception, apologise, and move on: “I fooled you because I could. I’m sorry for the offence I’ve caused and the harm I’ve done”. He’d still be the bad guy in the story, but there’d probably be a sort of grudging respect that he’d put one over on so many people for so long, as well as an acknowledgement that he was man enough to fess up when he was exposed. I doubt this will happen, but perhaps it will when he looks at the two possible ways this will play out. Being hated (and perhaps even grudgingly admired by some) might be a more attractive prospect for him than his current situation. What is his current situation? I now work as a journalist and broadcaster, and with my finger on the pulse of ufology in both the UK and the US, it’s very clear what the current view is. When Warren is mentioned at all (which is happening less and less, incidentally) all people can think about is the comically-photoshopped picture of him and John Lennon, along with his plaintive cry “The pic is real Pete”. And you know what? People don’t hate him at all. They’re laughing at him.